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Dispatch from #ForumCon23: Accountability

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

This is a guest post by Ellen Serpico, Data Management Associate at Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders.

Attending the Emerging Practitioners workshop at the outset of #ForumCon23 was an invaluable introduction to the deep learning, introspection, and networking that characterized the entirety of my conference experience. With a focus on liberatory leadership, the session equipped participants with a framework for identifying different forms of power, cultivating clarity within our roles, and fostering the courage to drive transformative change. Facilitated by Elyse Gordan and Laura Collier, the workshop featured a compelling 'Sphere of Control' exercise. Through this exercise, attendees identified work-related stressors, discerned elements within and beyond our control, and crafted actionable strategies for addressing the issue. During our shared reflections, a common sentiment among attendees was that we saw our abilities to self-advocate and be direct in our communication as valuable forms of power. 

During his keynote address, F. Javier Torres-Campos discussed the significance of direct and honest communication in his own work, emphasizing that this approach has bolstered connections and collaborations with colleagues. While “professionalism culture” often asks us not to rock the boat, this is not the path to healthy working relationships. In his words, "True care and accountability is being willing to stay in discomfort with someone." Sequoia Thompson from SoCal Grantmakers posed a question to Javier on how to encourage organizations to genuinely internalize accountability with a nonpunitive approach. She highlighted the importance of being able to complete the sentence, "I hold myself accountable by…," while acknowledging the challenge of extending this concept at the organizational level. In response, Javier expressed that the existing structure of society promotes policies that benefit the majority of people, inherently leaving out marginalized people. He noted that we have the tools and the imperative to shift the system to a more individualized approach.

The Knowledge Management as a Tool for Racial Equity session led by Donita Volkwijn highlighted the importance of building equitable channels for knowledge sharing at our organizations. As the adage goes, “knowledge is power;” and without centering racial equity, the misuse of that power can be ineffectual, and often harmful. Donita also said that by socializing anger out of our work culture, we have replaced trust with the facade of “politeness.” Trust is what allows people to safely self-advocate when our processes are hurtful, confusing, or frustrating. Using Knowledge Management (the nexus of people, process, and technology), Donita provided several tools for addressing racial inequities and rebuilding trust by: 

  1. Addressing Power and Privilege
  2. Accounting for Trauma
  3. Reimaging/Building on What’s Already There

#ForumCon23 was a transformative experience that challenged me to think critically about my power and privilege, and how I can use them to create change. I am grateful for the opportunity to have attended this conference and to have learned from both speakers and participants. I am walking away from my time at the United Philanthropy Forum feeling more aligned with my peers in the space, connected with resources to support my professional development, and equipped with the courage to “lead from where I am” in my role.